Ken Livingstone Painting By Andrew Tift Goes On Display At National Portrait Gallery
Ken Livingstone, the often controversial left wing politician has been inducted into the National portrait Gallery with a new painting by the artist Andrew Tift. The commission is supported by BP as part of the BP Portrait Award. The large, square acrylic painting (3 ½ feet by 3 ½ feet) shows the first Mayor of London and former Labour Party politician in the back garden of his north London home. Although depicted wearing his official London 2012 suit and tie, Livingstone’s garden ‘retreat’ was chosen by artist and sitter as the setting for the portrait rather than a more formal location symbolic of Livingstone’s career. A keen gardener in his spare time, Livingstone is shown sitting in a relaxed manner on a metal garden chair, surrounded by healthy, colourful foliage, and looking directly at the viewer.
Following an initial visit to Livingstone’s home in April 2011 to decide on the approach to the portrait, the first sitting took place the following August, where Tift took over 1000 photographs of Livingstone and his garden. To create the final composition, the artist digitally manipulated a number of photographs, resulting in a vivid and extraordinary depiction of the back garden of an apparently normal London terraced house. The resulting work, which took eleven months to complete, is a natural portrayal of a politician, presented as a resident of the city to which his career has been devoted.
Ken Livingstone joined the Labour Party in 1969 and served as a local councillor from 1971. He was a member of the Greater London Council from 1973, becoming its leader in 1981, a position he held until its abolition in 1986. From 1987 to June 2001 he served as Labour Member of Parliament for Brent East. He was elected as the first Mayor of London, covering the Greater London area, in 2000 and for a second term in 2004. Realising its potential as a way of regenerating east London, Livingstone offered the British Olympic Association essential and unequivocal support in their bid to host the Olympic Games in London in 2012.
Andrew Tift studied at Stafford College of Art and the University of Central England. He has exhibited many times in the National Portrait Gallery’s BP Portrait Award, winning the BP Travel Award in 1994, third prize in 1999 and first prize in 2006 for his triptych portrait of Kitty Godley, Lucian Freud’s first wife. Tift painted Tony Benn for the House of Commons in 1998 and, in 2001, he was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery to paint a double portrait of Neil and Glenys Kinnock. Tift’s 2011 drawing of Eric Sykes is also in the National Portrait Gallery Collection and his portrait of Cormac McCarthy is in the Collection of the National Portrait Gallery – Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC. Tift often paints in a highly detailed and intensely realistic manner.
Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, London, says: "Andrew Tift's complex commissioned painting of Ken Livingstone offers a striking portrait of a highly influential figure in London’s political landscape. I am very grateful to BP for making this possible."
Des Violaris, Director, UK Arts and Culture, BP, says: ‘We are thrilled to have had the opportunity to support this striking portrait of Ken Livingstone, and for it to be unveiled in the year that marks the 25th anniversary of BP sponsorship of the Gallery’s Portrait Award.’
Andrew Tift says of his portrait of Livingstone: ‘I wanted it to be a relaxed and informal depiction. One of the things Ken said to me during the sittings was that he always tried to appear calm during interviews and debates and never lost his cool so I wanted his pose to be calm, as if the viewer was in conversation with him and he was listening. I liked the idea of setting him in his garden rather than against architectural symbols of London which he is associated with because it was his little patch of London and I think he is very much perceived as a down to earth figure ".
Andrew Tift’s portrait of Ken Livingstone was commissioned by the Gallery’s Trustees and made possible by BP as part of the First Prize, BP Portrait Award, 2006. Gallery commissions supported by BP include Julia Donaldson by Peter Monkman, Dame Kelly Holmes by Craig Wylie, Sir Paul Smith by James Lloyd, Sir Mike Jackson by Brendan Kelly, J K Rowling by Stuart Pearson Wright, Dame Cicely Saunders by Catherine Goodman, Dame Camila Batmanghelidjh by Dean Marsh and Sir V S Naipaul by Paul Emsley.
While this is the first painted portrait of Ken Livingstone to enter the Gallery’s Collections, he is represented in photographs by Tom Miller, Michael Birt and Stephen Hyde.